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Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

On the 10th of December we left Joburg early that morning for a 1100km drive to Plett. It was the day of Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service, so parts of the highway were blocked off and police vehicles were set up every few hundred meters. Luckily at 4AM the roads weren’t busy just yet and we got out of the city pretty quickly.

After 14 hours, dodgy restaurants, a ginormous thorn in my foot, singing along to “All by myseeeeeelf”, extreme driving conditions in the mountains and a hell of a lot of fun, we finally made it!

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JJ eating cereal πŸ™‚

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Driving through the mountains. After 14 hours we were going slightly mental πŸ˜€

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Driving on a narrow road with a 100 meter drop while visibility is a couple meters in front of makes things even more exciting πŸ˜€

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“It can also be… a hat!”

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Lance’s grandad (oupa) was so excited to see us, it was very sweet. We went for a quick walk on the beach and caught up with more family members before all having dinner together. If there is one thing Lance’s family can do, it’s eat and drink! I definitely gained a few kg’s over the past month!

The next day we all went on the boat to the river and played cricket, swam and went tubing. Although my foot was so swollen from that damn thorn that I couldn’t walk on it, I wasn’t gonna let it ruin the fun.

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Tian and JJ (Lances cousins)

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JJ and David

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With Robyn and Margeaux

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The moment Margaux hit the water πŸ˜€

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With Daniel (a friend of Robyn and David)

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Kyle (left)(Lances cousin) with his friends

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Cara (Kyles sister, another cousin)

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Robyn

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Jurie (Lances uncle) with his sons, JJ and Tian

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*getting stung by a mosquito on my arm. Oh and eating chips and drinking ciders by the river πŸ˜€

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With Lance, Robyn, Tian (with sexy long hair LOL), JJ and Daniel

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Just casually posing for a photo

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Robyn

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With Lise (Lances aunt), her daughter Cara, Robyn and her mum/Lances other aunt Rentia on the boat.

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Cara

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Lances uncle Niel

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From Lance’s oupa’s apartment you can see the ocean and it only takes about 5 minutes to walk to the beach, which is why we went almost every day and got very sunburnt. It’s such a great place to just relax and have a good time. I spent hours lying in the sun, swimming, reading my book, listening to my music, playing cricket and having lunch and cocktails at the restaurant, which is right on the water.

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No shortage of wine!

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Just saying… I wear it waaaay better hahaha

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Tian had lost a bet at university and wasn’t allowed to cut his hair for a very long time. The week before Christmas we finally convinced him to get rid of his “sexy” mop πŸ˜€

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Looking good LOL

_DSC0848Rentia, Niel and Lise. Lance in the background πŸ™‚

Most of my time in Plett was spent hanging out with Lance and his cousins. We played lots of card games, went out to town a couple of times, went kayaking, made a bonfire at the beach one night and ate pizzas.

On Christmas morning we all met upstairs at oupa’s place to unwrap our Christmas presents. It was so nice to see that there were presents for me as well. It really made me feel like I was part of the family. Once everything was unwrapped oupa and the rest of the family were going to church, so Lance and I decided to go along for him and experience something we had never done before. The entire service was in Afrikaans, but luckily I had no problem understanding it. Lance on the other hand had a little more trouble and looked like he was bored out of his mind. But in the end we went for oupa and he really seemed to appreciate it. We got back around lunchtime and soon the house was full of people who had all come to join us celebrate. Everyone was in a great mood and eventually we all decided to go to the beach for a swim as the weather was amazing. We lay in the sun, played more cricket, swam and had a great time. The waves were so ridiculously high and followed so closely to one another that I had trouble getting back to shore and eventually got caught in a rip. I freaked out, the current was so strong and I no matter how hard I swam I kept being dragged back out. Luckily Lance came to the rescue and somehow managed to drag me back. We soon left and got ready for an even more fun night, drinking and playing card games. It had been such a great day with many firsts: my first Christmas in South Africa, away from my family, going to church…

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Robyn with her dad (Niel) on Christmas morning

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Unwrapping presents upstairs at oupa’s apartment

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Heike, JJ and Tians mum

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Lise and her husband Gary

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Rentia and Heike

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Cracking jokes with Gary

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Cara and Lise

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Lise with oupa

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DeWet and Leon-Brink (family)

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With Tian, Chris, Kyle, JJ and Lance having Christmas lunch

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Jacques and Robyn

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Gary, Mila and Leon-Brink

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JJ and I

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Kyle, Lise, Cara and Gary

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Jurie, Tian (with short hair!!!), JJ and Heike

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Tian and JJ

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Tian, JJ and Kyle

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Leeching (the art of grabbing someones nipple and twisting it LOL)

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THE MOST AMAZING DESSERT EVER!!! Chocolate pavlova with berries and chocolate!

The next day was very special and one I will never forget. We visited a family friend whose house (although I think the word mansion describes it better) is right on the beach. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen and fits right into a magazine on dream homes. We chilled on the beach, swam in the ocean, read my book and listened to music. At one stage we spotted a pod (?) of dolphins just off the coast. Although they were a little far out we went to see if we could get close anyway. It was very freaky, but exciting at the same time to be out in the open water, not being able to touch the ground and knowing that there are lots of dolphins nearby. JJ, Lances cousin got quite close, but Lance and I weren’t quick enough and within seconds they were gone. It was getting late and we had a braai (South African bbq) to go to, so we packed up and headed back to the house. While we were upstairs, standing on the deck, looking out over the ocean, we spotted the dolphins again. They were heading back our way, and this time much closer to shore. We dropped everything, ran back down as fast as we could and headed straight for the water. I was exhausted before I even reached the water, but feeling so excited! The dolphins were getting closer and surrounding some kayakers. Eventually we were in their line and soon they swam past us within 2 meters! I could almost touch them! They were coming out of the water and jumping back in again. It was so incredibly special, I was bursting with excitement and close to tears. I had never seen dolphins, in the wild, let alone while being in the water with them and being so close I could almost touch them! It was a moment I will never ever forget!

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I only had Lances phone to take a photo, but I couldn’t leave without taking a photo of the stunning view, minutes before swimming with the dolphins.

Later that night the whole family went to the boat club for a braai. It was a lot of fun, but I was so exhausted from all the swimming that we decided to have an early night for a change and get a good night sleep, before getting up at 5.30 the next morning.

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Gary and Lise

The van de Vyver’s have a yearly tradition, the family golf challenge. Everyone is put into teams and they play golf in honour of Lances grandma (ouma). Some of them are amazing, others not so much (Lance and JJ :D). Although I wasn’t playing (apparently I swing it like a cricket bat or hockey stick and won’t make it as the next Tiger Woods), I went along anyway to watch and have fun racing the golf cart. After a couple hours everyone had finished and I had spent my time under the air conditioning skyping home. We all had breakfast at the golf course and the winners were given their trophy before heading back home for a nap and more beaching.

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A couple days before the actual challenge we decided to go to the driving range to see if I had some hidden skill…. I did not!

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Modelling some awesome glasses I received from an admirer I had met at the cricket a week earlier. His pick up line had been: It takes (a certain amount) of muscles to frown, but only (so many) to smile, so keep on smiling….. LOL thanks guy I do not know for telling me this while I sit next to my boyfriend πŸ˜€

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I think I have a better chance in a modelling career than a golfing career :/

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JJ looking all fancy schmancy

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Kyle doing his thing

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The actual day

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Cara and I looking pretty hahah

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Lance in a team with JJ, Lise and Chris

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Chris

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JJ (finally) succeeding)

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“I swear we didn’t lose our balls!!”

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Having a LOL

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Kyle and his girlfriend Amy

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Oupa (93!!!!) still playing golf

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Kyle in a team with his dad Gary, aunt Rentia and oupa.

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Kyle and Amy

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Heike, Tian, Leon-Brink and Jurie, winning the golf challenge

Β Two days later we had another early morning start to go for a walk around Robberg Island. It is such a beautiful place with a lot of history. The first part of the walk is high up, looking down into the ocean. It’s quite steep in some places and soon I was sweating like a pig. Eventually you reach a point where you can cross the island and run down the most amazing dune, towards the beach. As soon as you start running you can’t stop and your legs are going so quick you think you’re going to fall, but I managed to get down to the bottom in one piece. We walked to the point where waves are crashing into the rocks, splashing tens of meters in the air. It’s an incredible sight and makes you feel very small and vulnerable. After the beach Lance and I jogged back round the other way, over rocks, past caves and eventually back to where we came from where they had prepared breakfast for all of us.

On the last day of the year I was awake early. Lance and I had been sleeping on mattresses in the lounge for a few days now as all the rooms were full, and were woken up by the hot sun that shone right through the window onto us, turning the room into a sauna. I had breakfast and went to the pool with Lance. While I was lying in the sun with my eyes closed I thought about what my final grateful photo of 2013 would be and about everything that has happened this past year. I have experienced and learned so much and although it has been far from easy, I am grateful for it all. Our relationship has been through hell and back, but we always keep on fighting. I have absolutely no idea what 2014 is going to bring, where I will be and what I will be doing this time next year, but it’s going to be part of my next adventure and I am excited about it!

The rest of 2013 we spent on the beach with a lot of alcohol and great people, around the bonfire. It was one of the best New Years Eve’s I’d ever had. We listened to music, played The Final Countdown in the minutes before midnight and went skinny dipping afterwards. Everyone had a really good time. Some stayed behind to watch the sunset, others started going back home.

Unfortunately for Lances 15 year old cousin David the new year started not so great as he had fallen into the bonfire, while throwing a log on and causing third degree burns on his hands, legs and knees. He was rushed to hospital for an emergency operation and was allowed back home after four days. Luckily because he is still quite young, the skin will eventually heal and in time he should be back to normal. We all had a big fright, but thank goodness he will be ok.

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Some more random photos that didn’t really fit in anywhere else πŸ™‚

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The Annual Poker Challenge

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Robyn with her awesome friends

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Dinner with friends and family after New Years

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Fitting in with the locals LOL

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At The Market in Plett

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Driving back to Joburg, past an interesting sign for a restaurant :/

After 2 months of not having a job and stressing about whether we would find something both of us would love, we finally heard back from the recruitment lady, telling us Sabi Sabi had decided to employ us, starting the first week of January. I will be honest in saying that I wasn’t nearly as excited as I should have been. In fact I was dreading it so much. After our last place I was freaking out a lot, had panic attacks and got very close to wanting to give up and go home. I was scared I was going to hate it again and knowing that this place was THE dream job for any ranger (it’s where you usually see yourself working in 10 years time after a LOT of experience) I also knew that I would never take that away from Lance. I tried to stay positive and not take the excitement away from him, but I just couldn’t. No matter how hard I tried I was experiencing one of the lowest points since we had left NZ 9 months ago.

We drove back to Joburg from Plett to get our stuff sorted and on the 8th of January we drove up to our new jobs. After a 6 hour drive we arrived in the Sabi Sands. It really is one of the most spectacular reserves in the whole of South Africa, known for its large numbers of predators. We were greeted by one of the receptionists who showed us to our room for the following two nights: one of the actual suites! To stay in a place like this you pay around NZ$1500 p/p per night, so you can imagine what it’s like: breathtaking!

For our first night we were invited to join the 7 course (!) buffet with the other guests and ate until we were about to explode. The next morning Lance had to be up at 5.30 while my day started at 8. I had been worried that my involvement with the children would be minimal, but I soon found out I would be working at the Elefun Centre for the whole month. Immediately I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I met with Tanya, the girl who runs the Elefun Centre and who I will be working with most of the time. She’s very friendly and the kids love her. She showed me around the lodge and what her morning routine is before starting our day. At 8.30 Michaela and Stefan, both 6 years old, arrived at the centre. They live at Sabi Sabi and get home schooled by Tanya. You can imagine that their lives are quite different from the average 6 year old. Depending on whether there are children staying at the lodge and want to visit the centre, their hours of schooling can differ from an hour and a half in the morning to a whole day with just the 2 of them. They follow a home schooling program, but when I arrived they had just finished their Grade R (or Grade 0), so Tanya was doing revision until their new books arrived.

Both were a little shy when meeting me for the first time, but not long after I was being shown ninja rolls and given hugs. We had 5 other children come into the centre and did lots of arts and crafts and games outside. We all had a lot of fun and the day flew by. At 3.45 PM my day finished as we dropped the children off with their parents to get ready for safari. Michaela and Stefan go home at this time as well, which means I get to have the rest of the day off! Up until this day I still sometimes can’t believe that I’m actually done at 4 O’clock and for weeks I felt like I was being tricked, that someone was going to come knock on my door at any time to tell me I had to work again, but it never happened and I actually get to have time for myself!

The only time I have to be back at the lodge at 7PM is when we have 5 or more children (which rarely happens) and we have to entertain for about 45 minutes, or I have to host in the evenings, which means, greeting the guests back from their safari, handing out hand towels, checking that the bathrooms are clean and helping with the dinner service. Although when hosting you don’t finish until at least 9.30PM I don’t really mind doing it, because I get to see the other rangers, whose hours are the complete opposite of mine, plus I get to eat as much as I want from the buffet!!

My first day had been so great, to say that I was feeling relieved is an understatement. My fears of having to work 16 hour days again, not having a social life and hating the work I would have to do all vanished and I was feeling positive and excited, something I hadn’t felt in a long time.

On our third day at Sabi Sabi we unfortunately had to move out of the suite and into the Pilot room. This room is still part of the lodge and although not as luxurious as the suites, it’s still nice and comfortable (with air conditioning!). After one last night together, Lance was starting his training camp the next morning, another thing I had been so worried about. “What if I had been having a tough time and I now needed him the most?” I now realize what a waste of time these thoughts had been and how much they had actually ruined my last couple of weeks. It’s crazy how so often we let the future ruin so much of the present. If I had known how I would have been feeling, I would have never been so worried and could have avoided many sleepless nights, tears and panic attacks.

Although I missed Lance, I had fun hanging out with all my new colleagues. One of the things that had been difficult at my old job, was my nonexistent social life, but here at Sabi Sabi there are so many people our age there is always someone you can hang out with. We had some great nights!

Over the next few weeks I continued working at the Elefun Centre where I learned lots of fun arts and crafts projects Tanya does with the kids and even went on a little nature walk with one of the trainee rangers, Mike, who taught the kids about tracks, grasses and all the small animals.

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Inside the Elefun Centre

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Every child that comes to the centre can do their handprint on the wall. They’ve been doing this since 2011 and have been forced to move outside. We’re running out of room quick!

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Doing bottle art

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Paper Mache animals

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Going for a nature walk

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I settled into our new room which Lance and the other trainee rangers had painted and slowly started to make it feel like home. One day while going into town to sort out my visa (It’s “only” been just over 6 months without the proper papers, thanks immigration for all your help!) I did some quick shopping and bought these awesome red curtains and blue and green pillows. I had painted the mirror black, used my kikoy as a table cloth to add some color and hung up the blinds in the bathroom. In the mean time I have a list that is as long as my arm with ideas of what I still want to do and buy on our first leave cycle (goodbye salary!).

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_MG_5670-EditOur room in the left corner
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Our room in the right hand corner

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“The Beach” where we have braais/bbq’s

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It’s been almost 5 weeks now since we started working here and I have enjoyed every single day so far. For Lance it has been challenging at times. Being a trainee ranger you get tested to the max. They really try and build character and see how far they can push you. His days have been extremely long, without breaks and most of the time he is either doing odd jobs or studying. After his Nkombe Camp he got to experience every single department in the lodge, from reception, to housekeeping, to kitchen, Elefun and Curio Shop, which means he hasn’t had a whole lot of time in the bush. His days start at 5.30AM when he has to do wake-up calls (knock on guests doors to wake them up for safari), he then needs to greet them in the lounge and serve coffee and tea, next he spends a few hours studying, he’s had to learn every single road in the reserve (over 600!) and draw a map of it from the top of his head, no guidelines, nothing, just a blank piece of paper. Besides this, he also had to learn theΒ  Shangaan words (one of the 11 languages spoken in South Africa) for every single animal, plant, tree, flower, track and a whole lot of other words that exists in the bush. The rest of the day he does any type of work that needs to be done and again greets the guests before their afternoon drive, serves high tea, and studies some more before hosting in the evening and eventually crawling into bed after 10PM. You can imagine how exhausted he is, but luckily his first lot of tests (maps and Shangaan words) went well and he has been joining some of the rangers on their afternoon drives, shadowing them. He has started his second workbook and will now slowly get to have more time in the bush.

I’ve been lucky enough to have gone for a few drives so far. During my first week, one of the guys got stuck and I went along to pull him out of the riverbed. My second drive was with the trainee rangers, while they were learning some of the roads in the reserve. During this drive I saw my first leopard in the Sabi Sands. A couple days later 2 of the rangers had an afternoon off, so they invited us to go on a staff drive. Seven of us went, we took some drinks and had a real good time. A couple days ago I was invited on yet another drive and this one was the best by far! Nine of us went, so we had a pretty full vehicle. Not long after leaving the lodge we spotted 2 rhinos, buffalo and kudu all together on an open plain. It was a nice hot afternoon and with some cold drinks in hand we had an amazing time. Around 7 we had to drop the new trainee rangers off, as they work in the evening, but four of us stayed on and drove for another couple hours. Within minutes, while looking for a leopard called Maxabeni (pron. Mashabayny) we found him lying in one of the riverbeds. The sun was going down fast. but I was able to snap some cool photos, using the spotlight the trackers use at night. We followed him for the next 2 hours or so and I was having the time of my life. Never had I ever been so close to a leopard where I could literally touch him if I wanted to. We drove past him, turn the car around and have him walk towards us. The moment he was right next to me he looked up, straight into my eyes. I can’t even explain the rush it gives you to have such a dangerous animal right next to you, with only a door to keep you from being killed in seconds. It’s moments like these, when you realize why you’re here. It takes away all the worry you ever had and makes you realize how lucky you really are to be able to experience these amazing moments I will be able to take with me for the rest of my life.

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With Courtney and Larney on gamedrive

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With Emmie and Franscois on nightdrive

To be fair, there have been a couple moments where I felt extremely grateful. One of those moments was when I had the chance to go with some guests on the community tour. Sabi Sabi has a lot of involvement with the community. Many of the staff come from nearby villages and a lot of the school supplies are provided by them. When guests arrive we encourage them to go for a tour through the village, seeing the school, the local healer, care centre, a traditional house and a lot of singing and dancing under the large marula tree where the chief lives. All the proceeds go directly into the village and towards sustaining the community. A few weeks ago I asked if there was an opportunity for me to go along, to give me an idea of what the tour is all about and to be able to tell guests about it. On the day itself, only 3 people had booked, so there was plenty of space for me. A guy called Sam, who lives in Huntington (one of the villages) picked us up in the morning and together with a guy called Lodrick (who used to work at the lodge, but has now set up this tour) we drove to the pre-school. On the way they sang songs in Shangaan in which they would include our names and made us all so very welcome. They told us about the villages and about the Shangaan lifestyle until we reached our first stop. I had the time of my life, singing songs, high-fiving, playing and taking photos with the kids. Children up to 6 years old come here and get taught mainly in Shangaan with a bit of English here and there. Not long ago one of the main TV channels in South Africa donated an entire container full of books and computers, together with Sabi Sabi. It was amazing to see this, as the classrooms aren’t equipped like our Western Schools. A small box that says “construction” stands in the corner of one the rooms and all that is in it are a few Duplo building blocks. They have decorated the walls, but overall the rooms look very bare and none have tables or chairs, just one big mat. The first room we walked into was for the 2 year old’s and all of them were either sitting or sleeping on this mat. They start waving and soon we’re all giving high fives. In South Africa one of the ways of greeting is doing some sort of fist pump where you put your thumb against the other persons thumb and kind of press and flick it. It took me a while before I had this gesture down πŸ™‚ Besides learning this new way of greeting, the older kids sang songs for us and I was taught a new song about “big fat oranges”. Hence the funny movements in the photo’s πŸ˜‰

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After the pre-school we drove to the local healer (Sangoma). Long ago, the local people wouldn’t visit doctors, instead they went to see their Sangoma when they were ill or needed advice. Although most people have civilized, and will go see a doctor when needed, they still believe very much in the powers of the Sangoma and go see him whenever they need to. For me this was a very special moment and I felt privileged to be allowed in his hut where he showed us his medicine and a special bag that contained bones from different types of wild animals (lion, buffalo, impala, crocodile etc.). After doing a religious chant he would drop the items onto a mat and read what it said. We all got a turn and I actually ended up being a little emotional. I filmed most of my reading and if you want to hear what I was told have a look at it, because it’s too much to all write down πŸ™‚

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Eventually we ended the tour at the chief’s house where a choir ofΒ  about 7 women welcomed us by singing songs and dancing. Soon we were all invited to join in and had a lot of fun. The family I was with was from India and they were the sweetest people. After the choir had finished singing 2 of the women showed us some of the local arts and crafts we were able to buy. I was asked by the family which one of the bracelets I liked best and soon they put it around my arm and told me they would buy it for me as they saw me as one of their daughters. I was blown away by their kindness and felt so grateful for the rest of the day. It’s amazing to realize that amongst all the horror in the world and the drama you see on the news, there are still many good people in this world as well, whose kindness is just so heartwarming and makes a real difference to your life.

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Overall I’ve had such a great first cycle at Sabi Sabi. These 6 weeks have flown by! I’ve met some amazing new people and realized that this is what work should be like (especially when you eat, breath and sleep there as well). You shouldn’t have to dread getting out of bed every single morning, counting hours, minutes before you can go to bed to rest your brain and body. You shouldn’t have to work with people who make you miserable. Life is too short to be unhappy and I am so grateful that I decided to take a big leap of faith and ended up in a place where I can enjoy work, have time for myself, and fun with people who respect me and treat me like a friend.

Yesterday my boss called me into her office to talk to me before we go on leave tomorrow and told me she is very happy with me and asked me how I had experienced my first 6 weeks. I was so impressed by the way she made me feel respected and important. I realized I had made the right choice and can’t wait to see what adventures are around the corner.

One small unfortunate aspect of working here however, is that when we started we had to sign a contract that won’t allow us to post any photos we’ve taken, onto our websites or facebook profiles, but between you and me, Lance and I will open a private facebook group where we can show just some family and friends what we’re up to without anyone else being able to see it. If you’re interested in joining this group let me know by a leaving a comment and I will send you the link πŸ˜‰

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